Marilyn Koziatek , District 3

Candidate for the LAUSD School Board - District 3

Integration or Universal Design:

Over 50 years since the advent of the modern Special Education regime in the United States, students with disabilities continue to struggle. As we think forward, what do you believe is the future of Special Education? Should students with disabilities continue to be educated through an improved two-systems approach with a focus on integration OR should we aim toward establishing one system for all students that meets the individual needs of each child?
One-size-fits-all models tend to be inadequate since each school community has different needs. We will see the greatest gains by focusing on improved screening for the youngest students, enhanced SpEd training for all teachers, and streamlining supports and services. Above all, the obligation of our school system is to ensure the individual needs of each student is met. 14% of LAUSD students require special education support and that percentage is showing signs of increasing. At this rate, we will not be able to sustain a pull-out model of providing supports and services. But a “one-model” approach is impossible given the varying needs of special education students. Core instruction needs to improve and include multi-modalities. IDEA states that we should integrate SpEd students with their general education peers to the greatest extent possible. This requires UDL to be implemented in all classes at all levels so that SpEd students can access the material in ways they learn best. Beyond that, special education is a spectrum of services, supports, and settings. IEPs are uniquely tailored to meet the varying needs of students and resources outside of the general education setting must be available to meet these needs.
Focusing on Early Intervention:
The results and benefits of early intervention are proven. Yet, challenges persist in identifying and serving young students with disabilities. What would you do to improve the District’s early identification and intervention initiatives?
The complexities surrounding the variability of child development makes traditional professional development inadequate in preparing teachers for appropriate differentiation of instruction. For instance, if a child has limited oral language and literacy experiences and it manifests in vocabulary deficiencies, print or phonological abilities, is it due to gaps in early development or a learning disability? The challenge is determining if a child needs SpEd assessment at an early age. It is crucial to identify learning gaps for students and to provide intensive instruction (inside the classroom or with a non-SpEd intervention specialist) to fill those gaps as early as possible. Student progress in mastering these missing skills will help determine if Special Ed testing is needed/recommended. Schools must be able to access strong multi-tiered system of supports that are reinforced by advanced professional development on early intervention. Take reading as an example: if a child enters elementary school and they are assessed to have reading difficulties, the teacher may refer the child to receive SpEd services but the child may have benefited from enhanced instruction from the classroom teacher (Lyon, Center for Development and Learning, 2003). The SpEd population is growing as a percentage of LAUSD students and there is often a resistance from administration in testing students at an early age due to lack of resources or staff. Developmental reasons are often given as an excuse to wait. However, there are some students who, after intense intervention in first and second grade, it is clear that testing is needed. Identifying learning disabilities and intervention at an early age saves money in the long run. The district needs to create a system to allow this to happen.
School-wide interventions:
Research demonstrates that appropriate school-wide interventions can be essential for serving students with disabilities and preventing others from needing special education and related services at all. How would you prioritize programs like reading intervention, math intervention, mental health/social worker services, behavioral intervention, and the like for all students, especially those in the neediest schools?
Reading, math, and social-emotional health should be prioritized based on the needs of each child. On a systemic scale, reading intervention and math intervention can be embedded in every activity from P.E. to electives to core classes. Social Emotional Learning curriculum and training is essential. If schools are able to provide flexible scheduling so students can be grouped in their zone of proximal development, especially in early learning, it can provide gains in important areas. Typical remediation strategies can be administered too infrequently and are too general to make gains, therefore prioritizing high-quality instruction inside each classroom, including the neediest schools, will make the longest-term gains. When specialized intervention services are needed, there should be a streamlined system of referral and implementation.
Less Teachers:
Studies and surveys have shown there is a dramatic decline in the number of special education teachers in Los Angeles County, how do you plan to address this issue?
Additional compensation is important for teachers entering into high-need fields including special education. Teachers also desire excellent training and professional development to feel successful in their field so this is another area that requires investment. Limiting their caseload is imperative to recruit and retain skilled professionals, since serving too many children can result in a decrease in quality of services and turnover in the staffing. National models of practice that can help include co-teaching, station rotation models, and Universal Design. The District can develop a pipeline of talent by partnering with universities and creating a sustainable model of mentoring and coaching.
Workloads and Caseloads of Special Ed Teachers:
Many teachers have reported their struggles with maintaining the quality of their classrooms and meeting the individual needs of their students as classroom sizes increase. What will the district do to ensure the students receive appropriate instructional services? In Special Day Classes? In Collaborative Classrooms? In the General Education setting?  
This is truly a problem. Case carriers often are scheduled into classes for nearly the entire day, have to provide minutes/services, write IEPs, conduct IEPs, collect data for enormous caseloads. We need to decrease Special Ed caseloads, have more protected time for interventions and leveled learning platforms. To better meet the needs of all students, general ed classroom class sizes need to be reduced and accommodations need to be embedded into the first time a lesson is delivered so if a student is struggling, it is because of a learning disability and not because the delivery of a lesson was lacking multi-modalities and scaffolding.
Essential support beyond Special Ed Teachers:
Many students with disabilities require related services as part of their IEPs. Related services include counseling, speech and language, occupational therapy, behavioral intervention, and other services. How would you make sure the District efficiently and equitably distributes these resources to schools throughout the District?
These resources should be distributed based on the individual needs of students throughout the District. Some school sites will benefit from having a full-time support provider and others will benefit from contracting to expedite services. A one-size-fits-all solution related to essential supports will not be adequate to meet the needs of each community.
Universal Credentialing:
Given our teacher shortage, recent scholarship has suggested that states alter credentialing regulations to create universal teacher credentials. Teachers will then prepare and acquire certification for both general and special education. Do you think changing the credential requirements would combat the shortage and facilitate inclusion of special education students in general classrooms, or would these credentials have little practical effect on special education programming? Would changing the credentialing process train ALL teachers to work with and educate students with disabilities?
This may be a good option. Content knowledge and high-quality instruction is the goal so we need to be creative about alternate options but hesitant about policies that promise a simple solution. All credentialed teachers should receive instruction on how to meet the needs of their Special Ed students through accommodations and differentiation. They should also receive district training on writing and achieving IEP goals. However, because Special Ed teachers require a set of highly specialized skills, they need to receive additional training through a credential programs and/or a district program training them in those skills. Teachers who are well-trained are prepared and are successful. The result is increased retention rates.
Raising funds:
As state and federal funding for special education decline, districts have redirected money from their general fund to cover the costs. In general, how do you plan to advocate for continued or additional funding for Special Education?
If the District conducted better early identification, intervention methods and scaffolding, we would be able to serve our students better, thereby eliminating the expense of remediation. However, the District’s legislative priorities include advocating for P-12 funding for moderate to severe SpEd students at the state level and supporting the passage and adoption of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act. The LAUSD board needs to take a more active role in advocating for both these items.
Many districts are forced to divert funding for special programs (like services for English language learners or foster youth) to special education services. Some districts and advocates in California have advocated for the neediest students (e.g., LCFF special populations-low income, English language learner, and foster youth) to receive additional funding based on how many of the LCFF categories they fall into. Would you support this approach to increase overall funding?
Yes - students can be EL, SpEd, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and foster youth. All require services and all services are different and are from different providers. Students who qualify for services should receive those services.
Would you support decreasing funding for school police to cover the costs of special education, increased mental health support, and other supportive measures?
Not in theory but I would to see the actual financials to demonstrate how this would be an effective solution.
Funding SELPAs: Students with disabilities are served by regional agencies that administer special education services for member school districts. These agencies, known as Special Education Local Plan Agencies (SELPAs), receive state funding based on total enrollment, not on the number of students with disabilities. While special education enrollment increases, overall enrollment declines in about half of the state’s school districts. Therefore, districts are losing state funding. How will you address this issue? Do you believe that SELPAs continue to be the best way to fund and administer Special Education in California? Alternatively, would you support integrating Special Education funding into the LCFF?
Yes, I would support integrating Special Education into the LCFF. The needs of our SpEd students have progressed beyond the antiquated models of funding. Our funding models need to reflect our intention of meeting the diverse needs of our students. The average annual cost of educating a student with disabilities is almost triple that of a student without disabilities. I would also be interested in auditing what services the SELPA actually provides to the schools and if the funding matches their services.
Programming for Students with Autism and other disabilities:
According to state data, students with autism rose 200% and now constitute 14% of students with disabilities. The state provides approximately $450 in extra aid per student for some disabilities, including blindness and other physical disabilities, though not for autism. How will you address the need of funding for programming tailored to students with autism and other disabilities that currently aren’t covered?
As our education system continues to evolve, we need to build in processes for constant improvement so children can receive the services they need to thrive. If the system recognizes a gap in funding that, if solved, could serve students better than we should review those calculations and make changes.
Charter Schools:
Many parents and advocates believe that charter schools are not admitting students with disabilities or are failing to provide them with appropriate special education services to meet their needs. How would you ensure LAUSD chartered charter schools or those that are members of the LAUSD SELPA are meeting their obligations to students with disabilities?
Charter schools are public and required to support the needs of all learners. They are held to the same standards in adhering to the law. Some LAUSD charters actually have a higher population of SpEd students than the District. Both charters and District schools must be held accountable for serving students well.
Substance of IEPs:
The IEP is at the heart of the Special Education system. Despite years of compliance monitoring (see above), many parents and advocates continue to feel that LAUSD IEPs are not sufficiently individualized to meet the needs of students (e.g., allowing only one eligibility category on the IEP document, staff not trained or able to write goals without using the Welligent goal bank, and having certain sections of the Welligent forms pre-populated). At times, bureaucracy rather than the student’s unique needs drives decision-making at the school-site level. How would you improve the IEP process for parents, kids, and school-site staff while maintaining uniform procedures and policies in the second largest school district in the country?
If bureaucracy, not the student’s needs, drives decision-making in the IEP then there will be a violation of the IEP and a potential due process. Training should be provided on how to create goals for each individual student, how to approach the IEP holistically, and include appropriate assessments without waiting for the student to regress.
IEP and General Classroom Integration:
How do we enforce the idea of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) including placing students with disabilities in general classrooms if appropriate, while also ensuring that general classrooms have the appropriate resources and supports for our students?
Mainstreaming or immersion requires the supports that one would generally get outside of the classroom to be provided inside the classroom. The entire class could benefit from LRE. Inclusion actually allows more students to be reached at one time. Rather than pulling out student by student, a SpEd teacher could be providing more support to more kids at one time. However, individual students will react differently to inclusion models and its impact on other students. One-size-fits-all solutions will not work for every child and every school.
Due Process Claims:
Parents have filed due process claims to appeal special education services and placement decisions. Given the rise of due process cases over the years, school districts have diverted education funds to settle these claims. What will you do to address this issue? How would you change District policy or procedures to improve parent satisfaction and avoid Due Process claims?
This is a byproduct of the general demise of parent/school relationships. SpEd regulations were written so that parents are part of the IEP team but parents often lack knowledge and participation in the process. This can be improved if the school staff is trained on the IEP process (all teachers – not just the administrator or the program specialist), IDEA, and assessments. Parents should also receive training on the IEP process, IDEA, and how to read assessments so they feel empowered. Everyone must work together in the best interest of the child. Disagreements will be inevitable so we must develop alternative dispute resolutions and meditations that are implemented with empathy and respect for all parties.
Transition Planning:
The IDEA requires school districts to engage in transition planning for students as they approach graduation and adulthood. These services and supports can be essential for students with disabilities who are college bound, career bound, and those pursuing independent living skills. Too often, however, transition assessments and planning are skipped over and treated like a formality. What would you do to address this often-neglected area to improve the post-K-12 outcomes of LAUSD students with disabilities?
This is an area that would improve exponentially by developing appropriate community partnerships with organizations that will provide the supports after graduation. Vocational, community, and four-year colleges have intake procedures and wrap-around services for vulnerable populations that could help provide a seamless transition. Additionally, career and work placement partnerships are embedded throughout the community to provide individuals with disabilities a bright and fulfilling future. The District can work to build upon these relationships to strengthen its transition services.